BREAKING: Lionel Messi Return Fails As Inter Miami Officially Eliminated From MLS Playoffs After Worst EVER Position—Inter Miami’s playoff hopes are officially over after Lionel Messi failed to inspire his team to victory in a must-win match against Cincinnati, with fellow Argentine Alvaro Bareal scoring late to end the World Cup winner’s debut MLS season.
Messi, who was a doubt for this weekend’s match in South Florida, entered Saturday night’s game in the 55′ minute for defender Tomas Aviles in an offensive substitution, with the score still 0-0 at the time.
But, roughly 23 minutes later, and Bareal scored off a fine save made by Inter Miami goalkeeper Drake Callendar to gift all three points to Cincinnati – the No. 1 seed of MLS’ Eastern Conference.
Inter Miami (9-17-6, 33 points) were eliminated from playoff contention due to their loss combined with CF Montreal’s win over the Portland Timbers.
Messi, 36, played on Saturday evening for the first time since September 20, after missing two weeks with a reaggravated scar tissue injury in his leg. He could not capitalize on a few chances in Cincinnati’s end when came in on as a substitute in the second half.
As a result, he was condemned to his very first loss as an Inter Miami player. Up until Saturday night’s game, the team had avoided defeat in all 12 of his appearances, only coming unstuck when he was unavailable.
FC Cincinnati (20-5-8, 68 points) continued the best season in their young franchise history. They had already clinched the Supporters’ Shield for the league’s best record in the regular season.
Roman Celentano made two saves for Cincinnati. Callender had five saves for Miami.
Inter Miami had possession for 61.6 percent of the game, but just two of their 16 shot attempts were on target.
Inter Miami controlled play in the first half and hit the woodwork on three separate occasions. Aviles hit the crossbar head-on from the center of the box, Josef Martinez pinged the far post with a shot and Benjamin Cremaschi’s close-range shot went off the crossbar before the end of the scoreless first half.
When Messi came on, 10 minutes after halftime, he quickly won a free kick in scoring range in the 59th minute, but he sent his attempt well over the crossbar.
Messi & Sergio Busquets arrived midway through the MLS season over the summer and have won the League Cup with Miami despite not making the playoffs
Cincinnati finally broke through by getting a steal in Miami’s end. Yuya Kubo moved in and fired on Callender, who parried it to his right. But Barreal was charging in on that side and easily deposited it in the net for his fifth goal of the season.
In the 87th minute, Messi got a left-footed shot through some traffic, but it dribbled past the net and out of play.
Messi drew two late fouls near the box, one in the 90th minute and one in stoppage time. On the first free kick, Messi tried to cross the ball in to a teammate and Cincinnati cleared it, setting up a fruitless Miami corner kick.
On the latter, Messi’s shot at goal went over the bar again. Miami ends it season as champions of the League Cup, runners-up of the U.S. Open Cup and in 14th place out of 15 in the MLS’ Eastern Conference.
Only Toronto (4-10-19, 22 points) trail the Herons in the league. Since Messi’s July debut, Inter Miami only won one of the six games he missed and only lost one of the 13 he’s played in